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The Substitute Wife (1994)
Not as deep as could have been, but original and intriguing
Imagine this. In a pioneer farm in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska, a women knows she is going to die in a few weeks because of a disease she has. She sets out to find another women to replace her with her husband and their four young children. Since there are six males for one female in that part of the country at that time, she has to fetch very far... and finally comes back with an aging prostitute (prostitutes start early to be aging...) who can't stand her life anymore. There is no other way for her husband to guarantee that he will be able to keep the family farm and their four children together after she dies.
Sounds odd to you? Actually, this starting point leads to some "triangle" situations that are even more peculiar. I liked to watch how the plot developed; many situations are clearly not predictable, and you can't really guess the conclusion before it comes up.
Granted, some aspects could have been developed more deeply, and you are left wondering about the realism of the story. For instance, how could the four children possibly react to such a situation? The movie doesn't really get into that. But then, it just preserves the unity of the plot, and you have more than enough watching how this courageous wife, this outsider women and this perplexed man-and-husband interact and work their way through this harsh and unusual situation.
I think this film clearly deserves more than the 5.2 / 10 it currently displays on IMDB. I give it a strong 7.
Summer of the Monkeys (1998)
More than you would expect
At first I thought this would be a standard boy-meets-pet movie. Indeed, in the first part, you see many typical elements of that type of movie : it's the beginning of summer vacations, young Jay wants to work at his grandfather's general store to buy a pony for himself but he can't because he has to work on the family farm. And then there's his sister who has an handicapped leg, and an the old hermit who shoots everything he sees moving in the woods.
But as the story evolves, you discover many profound characters and relationships : the old hermit is not exactly what you thought, the grandfather has many interesting conversations with his grandson and with Jay's mother (his own daughter). The relationship between Jay and his sister also develops into something not predictable at first.
And of course, the chimps are there all along, which can only add comic as well as touching situations.
I rented that movie mainly for my children, but all in all, I found many edifying lessons for myself in it.
Highlander III: The Sorcerer (1994)
The other reviews say it all : you will have a good time watching this film if you don't expect something too smart or original but just wish to be entertained with some action and fantastic images.
But I wish to add that paying attention to the music is also worth the shot. From the eerie chants in the most unsettling moments to the timeless Celtic songs accompanying the grandiose shots and peaceful passages, the music is a faithful and enhancing companion to the plot.
Love Dream (1988)
Beautiful images... stale story
The main character is an ex-rock star. He stopped singing when his brother died in an accident - probably a suicide. He feels guilty. One day, on the beach, he finds a vase. A female genie comes out of it and offers him three wishes. The only thing he can wish is that his brother come back. But that's impossible.
The whole movie is built around the theme of being able to live again when someone near you has died. The message is profound and interesting, but the theme is not really new, and I can't say that it is renewed or made poignant in this static film.
However, one must say that the Charles Finch knows how to catch beautiful images : throughout the film, he shoots many great natural scenes and numerous extraordinary tight frames (Christopher Lambert is downright photogenic), also playing with the fabulous light of Italy.
Pontiac Moon (1994)
I really liked that movie for the originality of the plot. From the beginning, on the one hand, you have Apollo XI taking off to the Moon in the boldest and riskiest adventure in all the history of humanity, and on the other hand, you have Katherine Bellamy, who can't even step out of her house because she is too afraid of the world out there. And between those two extremes, you have Washington Bellamy, his husband, who has a drive to explore and discover but hasn't made a single trip with his 11-year old son because Katherine doesn't even want her son to step into a car.
Now Washington is too inspired by the Apollo odyssey and decides it is time for his son to discover something more than what you can find in books. They will drive from their home in California to a natural crater in Idaho, in exactly the same time as Apollo XI gets from Earth to Moon.
The parallelism between the father-and-son trip and the space journey is maintained from the beginning to the end. Of course, the father and the son will strengthen their ties during the trip, the son will learn why his mother is so timorous and... maybe there's a happy ending over there!
Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991)
Nice little movie
Nice little movie about life in the Prairie and about how a young widower can make a new life, and how his two children can relate to a new women coming to their home to "replace" their mother. No clichés (there could have been scores of them), sensitive story, good casting. Never before that movie had I sensed how Kansas and Maine, two states in the same country, can be so far apart, geographically and culturally.
Soul Survivor (1995)
A good, but maybe somewhat long, music video...
The main interest of "Soul Survivor" is how it attracts you into a particular world, the world of Jamaican immigrants in Toronto. You can't call the plot enthralling, but it is interesting in showing some dilemmas and the real world of immigrants and children of immigrants for whom a place under the sun is not won beforehand in their new country.
Not a depressing film, though. Actually, the whole movie looks rather like a long music video, complete with excellent Jamaican music and a special colour and feeling for images. I would say that the plot, though not uninteresting, comes third.
One important problem is that I found the main character, Tyrone, to be the one with less depth. I especially liked Reuben, his cousin, the artist-type, would-be music star, always hopeful, idealist, trying to educate his Black brothers about their origins, but somewhat empty-headed. And George Harris makes very good pictures as Winston, too.
A 6 out of 10. For first the music, second the atmosphere, and third the plot.
What's in a couple
European movie directors definitely don't approach love in the same manner as Americans. On the whole, "Deux" has every element you need for a love story. But it contains none of the fairy tale and/or dramatic aspects you usually find in an American flick. The result is maybe fifteen minutes in the beginning where you are misled into thinking that this movie is about the world of contemporary music, and then twenty minutes more where you don't have a sense of where you are going. But if you stick at it, finally you get the big picture and you don't regret it.
Gérard Depardieu is Marc Lambert, the manager of a pretentious music composer. He has an affair with the sexy real estate agent with whom he is trying to find a house in Paris.
Making love before thinking about marriage is no big deal nowadays. But deciding first to marry and only then trying to negotiate what the couple is going to look like after marriage (money, children, sex, lodging, fidelity, etc.) looks a bit like a tumble. That's where they lost me for a time.
But then you realize that this movie is about two rich people that have always been living an independent life and, as a result, don't know what love is, don't know how to deal when they really find it - and actually can't know whether they do fall in love. Hence the floating part in the middle.
Probably not to be recommended to people who do not have some experience of life. But people in the thirtysomething plus will find there something to chew on. By the way, Claude Zidi was 55 when he shot that drama, after directing such light comedies as "L'aile ou la cuisse" or "Les bidasses en folie". A 7-minus out of 10.
Vent de galerne (1989)
The breeze that would be wind
Suppose a guy would say : "I am going to make a movie about the Vendée insurrection." And has no further exact idea of a plot. "Vent de Galerne" is probably not far from what you would get.
In 1793-1796, a bunch of people in Vendée (Center-West in France) decided they would not support the French Revolution and would fight the Republicans. Apparently, it was a terrible civil war, with 400,000 casualties. Great subject for a movie.
But here, you don't really have a hint of the historic scope of the war. You only see a couple parishes being subdued by the Republican troops in a few days, not a whole region occupying its main cities during three years. And about the motivations of the different groups, you know no more. Why did the Lord of the place accept to command the peasant troops? It's obvious when you know the historical context, but as weird as it may seem, that point is not clearly made in the movie. As for the motivations of the people, it looks like they are spilling their own blood by fighting against their fellow countrymen only because they don't want to make war at the frontiers.
Granted, showing the full scope of the conflict is not a must in this type of movie, but then, you need a plot. To be honest, there is some sort of a love story, but no romance. Courage, but no heroism. Dialogs are poor; Jean-François Casabonne is not convincing as the main character (André Bluteau, Marie's lover and the blacksmith leader of the insurrection in his village).
The best element in the film is how it manages to convey an interesting portrait of society in France just after the Revolution : the interrelations between the working class, the business class, the noble class, the clergy and the Republican Army. Also, it recalls how wild men can turn out to be during a war, and particularly in that place and time of world history. Finally the technical aspect is o.k. (shooting, lighting, landscapes) and the setting is convincing (costumes, places, etc.).
A 5 out of 10. For a good story about Vendée - this time with an excellent plot - read "Les Chouans" by Balzac. For a much better movie about that episode in the History of France, go for "La Révolution française" by Robert Enrico.
Not only one question
At first, the only question that seems to be asked in the plot is : "Is she or not Caroline?" Of course the answer you will only have near the end. But central to the movie are also other more universal questions like : "What do you do with a handicapped child?" and then again, more importantly : "What do you do with the (rich) parents of a handicapped child?" This flick kept my interest from the beginning to the end. The psychology of the characters, especially the mother and the young boy, whose lives are organized exclusively around the little girl's handicapped condition, are complex and most interesting.
Murder Story (1989)
Not a killer
One of those movies where you have to wait until the last 30 minutes to appreciate the first hour. In other words: good plot on the whole, but slow to start. I found the film to be interesting only when it became obvious that Tony, the young would-be writer, is willing to risk a lot in order to assume the freedom of being "non-conformist", which is, in his own words, one of the main roles of an artist in any society, and which often means assuming a real risk, even in the US.
Chile, la memoria obstinada (1997)
Interesting, moving, well-shot
Not only is the subject interesting but the way the movie has been directed too. The film is built around parallels between today (1997) and Salvador Allende's time in Chile (1970-1973), including Pinochet's coup d'état. We see many people, many places, then and now (Patricio Guzmán was a filmmaker in Chile at that time). We hear all the way Guzmán's uncle trying to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata with his 80-year-old fingers and his failing memory, which gives a special color to the whole film. We also hear many thoughtful reflections from interesting people about memory. The final part, where we can see students watching the documentary about Allende's time and the coup, and learn and reflect about the history of their own country, is very moving.
One must say however that the way Allende's experience is presented is one-sided. People are correct when they say that Allende and his supporters had a dream about democracy and justice, but nowhere is there any hint that at the time of the coup, the country had been in a social and economic chaos for two years because of Allende's poor results as a government. Of course, that can't excuse Pinochet's regime, but it could have added a useful dimension to the whole story. Anyway, the movie is not an apology for Allende as much as a reflection about remembering painful personal and collective events after almost a quarter of a century.
The Undertaker's Wedding (1997)
Not boring, but nonetheless ordinary
There are some interesting (original?) ideas in the plot, but I found the acting and the general effect just so-so. The movie did not really make me laugh. Also, French readers please note that the dubbing is poor.
Holy Man (1998)
Thoughtful, inspiring comedy about the meaning of life and consumerism
Very good, thoughtful comedy, where you can reflect on what your priorities are in life and what TV and consumerism are all about. I found none of the actors to be amazing, but they are o.k. and the story is worth watching. Looking for low-level, gross comedy? Won't like this one. Looking for an amusing and inspiring plot? Go for it.
My Father the Hero (1994)
Funny, intelligent and realistic comedy
This is a funny, intelligent and, in a sense, realistic comedy about a 14-year-old trying to live her first love while on vacation, and also about the complex, sometimes amusing, sometimes touching, relation between a divorced father and her growing daughter... and about how far a women (not only Nicole, the teen-ager) can go to get the man she loves! I laughed a lot with this lively scenario that never drags.
A Call to Remember (1997)
A second life after the Nazi horror
This movie gives a good idea of how it must be when your parents lived the Nazi horror but desperately want to bury the memory of it and want "the best" for you as a child. I found the movie longish at times and the ending somewhat simplistic, but the relations between the members of this family are often thought-provoking. A good flick overall. I rate it 7 out of 10.
If These Walls Could Talk (1996)
One-sided but enlightening
The only thing that disturbed me in this movie is its clear bias towards pro-choice, which is obvious from the very beginning. Unfortunately, it makes the film look like a propaganda piece. However, the movie does provide a very powerful picture of what it is like when you get pregnant and don't want to. Beyond the technical-medical-moral issue of abortion itself, the movie also shows very well how, basically, the main problem of a women living an unexpected pregnancy, be it in 1952, 1974 or 1996, is often that she is downright alone and must face the indifference and despise of society at large and of most people around her - including the father of the baby.
Great opening scene
Contrary to other reviewers on this site, I find this is a good thriller on the whole. But above all, it has one of the most well done opening scenes I have ever seen. The camera just wanders through the rooms and corridors of a big house, showing sometimes a detail on a piece of furniture and then going forward. During that time you hear a part of Stravinsky's "Sacre du printemps" with many contrasts in it, and also the faint voices of two people discussing, then quarrelling... and then you hear the murder. The extraordinary thing is how the many contrasts of Stravinsky's music match the waves of the people talking, sometimes softly, sometimes loudly. This only scene lasts many minutes and ends with the camera finally finding a clothing screen and showing blood slowly pouring from the bottom. A memorable achievement!
How in the world do you get out of exploitation by the rich?
"Germinal" is a vivid, colorful, eloquent rendering of how the life of mine workers was in Europe in late 19th century. It is also a powerful illustration of how a strike could come about in that time, and how difficult - almost hopeless - it could seem for those dirt-poor people to try and improve their miserable life conditions. Of course, the contrast with the bourgeoisie is striking and thought-provoking. Depardieu (as Maheu) is, as usual, a giant figure, and most other actors are also very convincing. One question that remains when you saw it all is : can you really change a society's deep, unfair structure without violence?
Taking Off (1971)
Does take off, but only 20 minutes from the end
This movie is very slow, uneventful and not entertaining at all. It is difficult to believe that it has been done by the man who gave us "Hair" and "Amadeus". However, I did appreciate the last twenty minutes, where you can clearly see the paradox of the parents worrying about the behavior of their child while behaving as decadent people themselves, and then the supper with their girl's boyfriend, where again you can see that your head is not necessarily empty just because you have lots of hair on it...
Est - Ouest (1999)
The harsh world under Stalin
If you want to have a clear picture of how the daily life under Stalin's USSR was, you must see this great movie. When you watch the Russian official destroying the French woman's passport, you have a hint of what is awaiting her, her Russian husband and their young boy. The escape scenes are also thrilling and so revealing.